Blessed!

The songwriter recalls that bleak season of life. He sings a lament of the time when the wheels almost totally came off the car (or the chariot, as the case might be). A time of great heaviness, never ending groaning, and insatiable emotional thirst. So much so that it felt as if his bones were wasting away and his strength was being dried up by an unrelenting heat. It was the season when he kept silent.

Silent about his sin. Having committed adultery with Bathsheba, and plotted the death of her husband, Uriah, David stubbornly refused to acknowledge his sin. If he ignored it, it would go away. If he rationalized it, it didn’t seem all that bad. If he twisted it, then the illicit affair and murderous act might be viewed as the deserved “perks” of his powerful position. So, he kept silent in that season. And it almost destroyed him.

The king’s “I’m ok, you’re ok” façade failed him. The guilt of his transgression weighed on him. The conviction of his sin drained him. The shame of his iniquity isolated him. Nothing seemed to go right. Everything seemed to be harder than it should be. God seemed against him.

It was his season of silence. It was the season that almost totally wrecked him. Cue the music in a minor key. Heavy sigh! Heavy, heavy, heavy sigh!

But then a turning point in the score of the music. The minor key fading as a major chord is struck. The darkness dispersing as dawn starts breaking. The cloud of ominous oppression lifting from his shoulders, as words of contrite confession begin forming on his lips.

I acknowledged my sin to You,
   and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,”
   and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.     Selah

(Psalm 32:5 ESV)

And You forgave the iniquity of my sin. You took away and You lifted off the guilt and deserved punishment of my offense. You cleansed the destroying stain of my sin–sin not just against man, but against You, the LORD of all the earth.

And in breaking his silence, and that by the patience and kindness of God who leads men to repentance (Rom. 2:4), the bondage of guilt was broken. The cloud of shame evaporated. Where there was sorrow and lament, there emerged rejoicing and dancing. For, according to the psalmist, those who shed the season of silence are blessed.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
   whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
  and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

(Psalm 32:1-2 ESV)

So often we count our blessings based on what we’ve been given. So often our happiness springs from what we have. But the songwriter’s sense of abundant well-being comes from what he had been forgiven, and from what he no longer had to carry. The record of transgression erased. The weight of iniquity lifted. The priced owed due to sin no longer held to his account.

Blessed.

Such is the song of those who confess their sin. Such is the condition of those whose sins have been forgiven through the finished work of the Lamb of God on the cross.

By His grace. For His glory.

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All Our Times Are In His Hands

Whatever the circumstances that prompted David to write Psalm 31, it’s pretty clear he was feeling kind of hammered. In need of speedy rescue, he cries out to his Rock and His Fortress. The affliction received at his enemy’s hand causing more than just bodily harm, but putting even his soul in distress. For his fight was not just with those on the ground around him, but against an unseen accuser who would seek to connect his present trouble to all his past iniquity.

Beyond the physical onslaught there was war being waged within his mind. Dealing not only with opposition from his enemies, reproach from his neighbors, and even dread from those who barely knew him (v.11), he also battled depression from within. His bones wasting away. His strength failing. Linking his past sin to his present situation. And in that, concluding that his was a life spent in sorrow, and years spent in sighing (v 10).

Like I said, David’s getting hammered. Both from the outside and from the inside. Situation desperate.

Desperate, but not defeated. In distress, but not in despair.

But I trust in You, O LORD;
   I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in Your hand . . .

(Psalm 31:14-15a ESV)

How’s that for an anchor for the soul? I trust in You. You are my God. My times are in Your hand. Talk about your “solid ground!”

When the going get’s tough, the hammered look up. And that only by His grace . . .

Whatever the circumstance, however bleak the situation, David would trust in the Sovereign God because he knew that all his days were in His hands. Days of prosperity, days of adversity. Times of rejoicing, times of weeping. All in the hands of a God worthy of wholehearted trust.

A faithful God (v.5). A God of abundant goodness (v.19). A saving God (v.16). A present God (v.20). A God who, even when we think we are cut off from Him, hears our pleas for mercy and our cries for help (v.22).

Our times are in His hand.

We can know this because our faithful High Priest knew this.

Into Your hand I commit my spirit;
   You have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.

(Psalm 31:5 ESV)

Jesus borrowed these lyrics from the songwriter as He breathed His last (Luke 23:46).

Jesus too knew the unrelenting onslaught of His enemies. His soul also experiencing great despair as He anticipated the cup before Him. The darkness settling in not only around Him, but deeply within Him as He cried out, “My God, My God why have You forsaken Me” (Matt. 27:46). But then confidently declaring, as did the psalmist, as can all who take refuge in Him, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!”

The Son of God, as perfect Son of Man, knowing too that His times were in the Fathers hand. Just as our times are in His hand.

Love the LORD, all you His saints!
   The LORD preserves the faithful . . .
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
   all you who wait for the LORD! (Psalm 31:23a, 24 ESV)

By His grace. For His glory.

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The Morning

Don’t know exactly how sick David was, but it must have been pretty bad–his enemies were getting ready to throw a party. What they had been unable to do with blatant force, it now appeared would happen because of a bad fever . . . or whatever it was that had David feeling as though he was nearing death.

And so, David prayed. He cried to heaven and he pleaded for mercy.

And God healed. Bringing David’s soul up from Sheol and restoring his life from the pit.

And David rejoiced. His mourning turned into dancing. The sackcloth of sorrow was replaced with garments of gladness.

And so he would sing. But not alone. Not content to do a solo, he writes a song to invoke a choir. And in that song words of comfort and hope that resonate throughout the ages. For in that song, there is the promise of the morning.

Sing praises to the LORD, O you His saints,
   and give thanks to His holy name.
For His anger is but for a moment,
   and His favor is for a lifetime.
Weeping may tarry for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning.

(Psalm 30:4-5 ESV)

As David asked the why question, all he could land on was that God was angry. Perhaps because he knew of unrepentant sin in his life, or maybe because he had no other hook to hang his sickness on. Hadn’t read of Job who was chosen to suffer so that God might demonstrate that those who fear Him will bless Him, even when He takes away from them (Job 1:21). Wouldn’t have known about a blind man to be born far in the future who was afflicted not because of his sin or the sin of his parents, but solely that “the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9). Or of a beat-up, converted rabbi who endured a perpetual thorn in the flesh in order to testify to generations after him that God’s grace is sufficient and that His power is made perfect in weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

Whatever David attributed his near death illness to, he never wavered from believing that God’s anger was momentary, but that God’s favor was for a lifetime. And so he prayed. And so God answered. And so David sang. And gave us a promise. A promise of the morning.

Weeping may tarry for the night,
   but joy comes with the morning.

And as I chew on the promise, I think about the morning. When the shadow of night gives way to the fullness of day. When the malady which besets the soul is healed. When the back that his bent over because of the burden is raised up. When tears are forever dried up “and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

And the promise of the morning is enough.

So let the choir sing!

. . . that my glory may sing Your praise and not be silent.
   O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever!

(Psalm 30:12 ESV)

Because of Your unfailing grace. For Your unfading glory.

Amen?

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Bad Weather Worship

A thunderstorm . . . that was the trigger. Foul weather, the inspiration for the song. Whereas in Psalm 8 it’s the moon and the stars which provoke awe-filled wonder . . . and in Psalm 19 it’s the sun acting as the catalyst for declaring the glory of God, this morning, it’s a loud tempest that evokes praise in Psalm 29. So I’m noodling this morning on bad weather worship.

Unlike David, how infrequently I connect the every day happenings of the creation with the Creator. Day after day the winds blow and the rain falls and I just brood about being wet. The rivers rise and I worry. The power of the sun is blocked by a massive enveloping cover and I’m thinking about the need for vitamin D supplements.

But what if the endless rain were to bring to remembrance the abundant out-pouring of His grace? A downpour experienced daily, but unable to fully comprehend it’s source. No apparent end to its supply. Filling streams and rivers and seas to overflowing. So much so that it causes us to respond, as another songwriter has written, “If grace is an ocean we’re all sinking.”

Or what if the winds were a reminder of how the Spirit of God works? With unseen, yet blatantly obvious power. Blowing where it wishes. And, though we hear its sound, we don’t know where it comes from or where it goes to (Jn. 3:8). Except to know that the Spirit brings dead people to life. That He enables deaf people to have ears to hear. That He intercedes when dumb people can’t find the words to say. That He is a deposit for redeemed people guaranteeing what is to come. A mighty, rushing wind come from heaven, apportioning divine enabling as He purposes (1Cor. 12:11).

And what if the cloud cover–that day after day after day of cloud cover–what if it were less a source of lament and more a reminder of the Father’s enveloping presence? Instead of seeing the grey skies as something to roar against, I rejoiced afresh in the refuge that is mine in the shadow of His wings. Reminded that, just like the seemingly endless cloud cover, “You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I will sing for joy” (Ps. 63:7). That the skies can be more than a constant grey to be endured, but could be creation’s cue to again sing with the psalmist of God’s faithfulness: “How precious is Your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of Your wings” (Ps. 36:7).

Yeah, to be more like David. Where, in Psalm 29, the thunderstorm isn’t just the thunderstorm, but it’s the voice of God. The voice over the waters. Breaking cedars. Flashing forth flames of fire. Shaking the wilderness. Causing animals to go into labor.

Where every day (literally “every day!”) common atmospheric conditions reveal a God who is anything but common. Declaring, if we’ll but take notice, that Jehovah is “full of majesty.” And reminding us that “in His temple all cry, ‘Glory!'”

I encounter bad weather and often wring my hands. David encountered bad weather and worshiped.

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
   ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name;
   worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. . . .
The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
   the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.

(Psalm 29:1-2, 10 ESV)

Oh to be more like David. To know more of bad weather worship.

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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A Strong Hand

They were to remember the day. They were to commemorate it with a special feast. They were to pass its memory on from generation to generation, handing it down as a perpetual sign on their hand and memorial between their eyes. They were to consecrate the firstborn of every man and every creature in light of the day, so that when their children asked why, they would have reason to tell again the story. The story of their deliverance. The story of their redemption. The story of a strong hand.

Then Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you came out from Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the LORD brought you out from this place.”

(Exodus 13:3 ESV)

They had been led out of bondage. Not only having walked out as free men and women, but with the plunder of Egypt. They were more than conquerors. And that not of themselves, it was the gift of God who had determined to break their chains. And that, by a strong hand.

Four times in Exodus 13, Moses is led by the Spirit of God to emphasize that God’s deliverance was by “a strong hand.” That when they remembered the story, when they told the story, when they offered up their firstfruits to commemorate the story, the story was not to forget a critical detail. That their actions of memorial were to recall not just that they were brought out of slavery, not just that it was God who had delivered them, but that it was by His strong hand that they walked out of bondage.

It was God who personally opposed Pharaoh’s tyranny. God who actively intervened to show Himself mighty so that His people might go free and His glory might be known. God who powerfully brought Pharaoh and his domain into submission while protecting the children He came to rescue.

When they remembered their exodus, they were to remember a strong hand.

And I’m chewing on this as I get ready to remember.

Our fellowship’s practice is to remember the means of our deliverance on the first Sunday of the month. We’ll take some time to consider afresh the act by which our bonds were broken and our freedom secured. To quiet ourselves before some simple feasting elements designed to direct our thoughts again to the day when the cell doors of our Egypt were burst forth. Death conquered. Sin’s power crushed. Riches, which we didn’t deserve and could never have earned, freely given as our inheritance. Assured that we too would eventually be brought into a land flowing with milk and honey. And this too, by a strong hand.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in Him.

(Colossians 2:13-15 ESV)

God’s power displayed on the cross. His dominance over our enemies forever settled by an empty tomb. The work finished. The promise secured. Our hope eternal. Because of a strong hand–the strong hand of our Mighty Redeemer.

Remember, you were brought out by a strong hand.

Because of His grace. Forever for His glory.

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“One Thing” People

Mary was one. While there was a ton of stuff to do to get things ready for hosting Jesus & Company at her and her sister’s place, she sat at the Savior’s feet. Martha was anxious and troubled about many things, but Mary new that only one thing was necessary (Luke 10:41-42). And so she neglected what was good for what was better. She was a “one thing” person.

So was the man born blind in John 9. Those around him were distracted debating if he really was the same guy as the guy born blind, or if, in fact, he really was ever blind at all. Others, who conceded that fact, wanted an explanation of how he was made to see, an explanation that didn’t involve Jesus. And so, they pressed him to give glory to God and come up with some other hypothesis of what had happened. But he couldn’t be swayed from what he knew to be true, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” The blind man who could see was also a “one thing” person.

And what about Paul? Sure he had met the risen Christ on the road to Damascus–that encounter of the divine kind redirecting his life 180 degrees. And yeah, he had been told that he would have to suffer much for Christ. But, at some point, you wouldn’t blame him if he thought that he’d suffered enough and might have been tempted to reprogram his internal GPS from Rocky Road towards Easy Street. But he didn’t. Instead he never wavered from fighting the good fight and running the race, never thinking he had fought enough or run enough to win, never giving in to the temptation to tap out. How come? Let Paul speak for himself: “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Php. 3:13b – 14). Another “one thing” person.

And it was David who got me thinking about “one thing” people this morning.

One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.

(Psalm 27:4 ESV)

If I’m recalling things correctly, it seems to me that rarely, if ever, did David deal with his enemies from inside Jerusalem. Whether it was Saul or Absalom or others who stood opposed to him, their opposition invariably resulted in his expatriation. Whether it was fleeing in a field, or hiding in a cave, or fighting on a battlefield, some of David’s darkest and most desperate trials were encountered away from the holy hill. And even when evildoers assailed him and his adversaries and foes would have his flesh as food, when armies encamped about him and war arose against him, there was always one thing he asked of the Lord, one think he would seek after, to get back to the house.

Not his house where his family dwelt. Nor back to the courts of power. Not even back to his esteemed position, his material wealth, and the life of ease. But David’s heart, even in the midst of great trial and oppression, was set on seeking the house of the LORD.

The presence of God being the only place he wanted to dwell. To gaze upon the beauty of holiness the only thing he wanted to see. To have restored divine communion and to inquire in His temple, the only thing he wanted again to experience.

There’s something about “one thing” people. Something inspirational. Something motivational. But I’m also reminded that it’s not because of who they are, but because they reflect something of the One they seek.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, “Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God . . .'”

(Hebrews 10:5-7a ESV)

Jesus too was a “one thing” person. Come to do the will of the Father. To give His life as a ransom for many. To redeem for Himself a people. To re-image them in His own likeness. To reserve for them a place in glory. That that they too might be “one thing” people.

By His grace. For His glory.

Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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Gen S

I’m a baby boomer. That’s how my generation is referred to by those who talk of the characteristics of people born during certain time periods. And that’s all I had to do to be a baby boomer . . . be born. I cannot not be a baby boomer. I might wanna be more cool and wear a Gen X t-shirt or a Gen Y baseball cap. Or try to be more hip and wear kneeless, tight jeans and think I can roll with the Millennials. But that’s not how it works. I’m part of the generation (and there were a lot of us, hence the “boom”) that was born post-World War II, between 1946 and 1964. So, I’m a baby boomer. Done deal.

And as I’m hovering over Psalm 24 this morning, I’m chewing on another demographic that I’m part of. And, in a similar way, part of the group through nothing I did or could have done. Though it isn’t a generation of people I was born into, it is an ageless, eternal cohort of men and women I was born again into. A generation that I sometimes think of as Gen S.

Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.   Selah

(Psalm 24:3-6 ESV)

My “people” are those who can ascend the hill of the LORD. Those allowed access to His holy place. Those invited within the veil to behold His glory.

And we have received blessing.  In fact, we’ve been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (Eph. 1:3). What’s more, we have been deemed righteous–a righteousness God has credited to our account apart from works (Rom. 4:6). Thus, identified as the those who seek Him and His face, we might think of ourselves as Generation Seeker. That’s us, Gen S’ers.

And such privileged access before the LORD of all the earth “and the fullness thereof” (24:1), such abundant blessing from the Giver of every good gift, is due solely to the fact that we have been counted among those who have clean hands and a pure heart. And this not of ourselves, it too is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8).

Clean hands not because of our goodness and perfection, but hands washed clean by Another. A pure heart not of our own making, for naturally mine was a heart of stone enveloped by sin. Instead, a pure heart because it’s a new heart.  We’ve been given a new spirit. And these, by the God or our salvation.

Such is the generation of those who seek Him.

We didn’t behave our way into this generation. We were born again into it. Because of the Father’s Sovereign determination. Through the Son’s sacrificial death. By the Spirit’s soul-regenerating dynamic.

Though once lost, we were found. Though once blind, now we see. Though once in bondage to sin, living in freedom. Though once wandering aimlessly, now seeking the face of God.

We’re part of Gen S. Not because of what we’ve done, but because of who He is. Members of that generation that seeks Him. Not because of who we are, but because of what He has done.

Seekers by grace alone. For the glory of God alone.

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